JOHN Smith’s* mother was a nun, his father was a priest, and their very Catholic secret about the baby they gave up for adoption would have gone with them to the grave except for DNA, science and Ancestry.com.
Mr Smith has added his voice to calls for the Catholic Church to make celibacy voluntary for clergy and end the “trauma and extreme pain experienced by many because of the ridiculous rules of the church”.
“If it wasn’t for the DNA link we’d never have found the truth. I’m not angry but I just feel sorry for all the people who’ve been caught up in the secrets, lies and hypocrisy of the Catholic Church,” said Mr Smith, who was in his 40s when he discovered his mother was a nun.
He confirmed his biological father was a Catholic priest following investigations and a DNA sample on the genealogy website Ancestry.com.
“To have discovered what I did - double clergy - was a jolt but I would encourage others in the same situation to consider DNA. I would think there will be many in the church with big secrets feeling very anxious that DNA may prove them to be flesh and blood, just like the rest of us.”
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse recommended Australia’s bishops request that the Vatican consider making celibacy voluntary after concluding mandatory celibacy was an “unattainable ideal” for many clergy, forcing them to lead double lives and “contributing to a culture of secrecy and hypocrisy” in the church.
It found some clergy overlooked celibacy violations in sympathy with colleagues “struggling to live up to an ideal that for many proved impossible”.
Studies have estimated up to 50 per cent of priests at any one time are failing to practise celibacy according to the church’s teachings.
Australia’s bishops raised the celibacy recommendation with the Vatican but in August the bishops said celibacy was a “long established and positive practice of the church” and the royal commission made no finding of a causal connection between celibacy and child sexual abuse.
Inadequate screening and training of priests “may have contributed to a heightened risk of child sexual abuse, but not celibacy as a state of life in and of itself”, the bishops said.
In response the National Council of Priests of Australia will make a submission to the Catholic Church’s planned 2020 plenary council conference that could see a request to the Vatican to allow married priests in Australia, and a return to the priesthood of former priests who left to marry.
Mr Smith said his biological parents had “an unusual relationship” and “there was a power imbalance there, it was very unequal”.
He had led a successful life in spite of the Catholic Church and its rules that meant his parents could not acknowledge him as their child.
“One of the most significant contributors to my success has been the love and devotion of my devout Catholic adoptive parents, which is somewhat ironic,” he said.
“For many adoptive people there is a great need to gather as many of the pieces of the jigsaw as possible, to find identity. Though he’s long-deceased, to have found my father brings significant closure.”
*Not his real name.